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Sawtooth United's Soccer Teams

local kids epitomize good health, sportsmanship, and the game of soccer

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In the last week in July, Sawtooth brings in professional players from Major League Soccer and the Men’s and Women’s National Team to share their experience and love of the game. The instructors include players like Roy Lassiter and Jason Kreis (the top two leading scorers in MLS history) and, most recently, Kate Markgraf, who won the World Cup and earned three gold medals at the Olympics.

In the summer of 2004, Sawtooth United expanded its programs overseas. Laura Gvozdas, former Wood River High School star, wanted to provide girls from the Wood River Valley the opportunity that she had to play summer soccer in Europe. With husband Greg Gvozdas, the WRHS girls’ soccer coach, she helped organize the Sawtooth United Premier Program to “play throughout the summer, enjoy a European travel experience, and to prepare for the fall high school soccer season.” “It’s a really maturing experience,” Laura says, “for the girls to go outside their Wood River Valley ‘bubble.’”

The 2004 Premier Team went all out to make that out-of-bubble experience a rewarding one. From January to May, they completed monthly fitness testing and, throughout the summer, practiced three times a week. They raised money by selling tickets for Sun Valley Car Wash and bulbs and plants from Clearwater Nursery. And they met for monthly bonding activities (game night, Holland Jeopardy, and team bowling), intended to mold girls from different schools and different classes into a “team.”

The Sawtooth Premier Team trained with a coach from the Royal Netherlands Soccer Federation in southern Holland, then traveled north to Almere, Holland, outside of Amsterdam to compete in the Holland Cup. In stiff competition against teams from Switzerland, Germany, Mission Viejo (CA), Sweden, and Denmark, the Premier Team finished second in the U-17 Challenge Cup and was presented with the Fair Play Award, the Sportsmanship Award for all teams in the division.

For both players and coaches, the results were secondary to the experience. In Almere, all the young women, including the two female coaches, slept in a single large classroom. “Needless to say,” recalls Laura Cordes, “twenty-two females sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags on thin blow-up mattresses for a week in the same classroom was quite an experience. And add to that our soccer gear, sweaty and wet from a downpour in our first game.”

Community School junior, Sara Berman, remembers being astonished at how big soccer was in Europe. “Every town has soccer fields and lockers, and in Almere, the tournament was such a big deal that it took over the town. There were banners everywhere, and so many things to do.”

“When we went over,” Berman adds, “we knew we weren’t the best, but we found that we could compete. More than that, though, we had fun with it. Some of the teams were way too serious, but we found that part of being successful was enjoying the experience.”

Ashley Mardian, now a first year student at the University of San Diego, recalls, “The most surprising part of the trip, for me, was not the knowledge I gained on the field, but the friendships I left with. I returned from Holland with a family. No matter how tough the training or a loss, we were all in it together. Our chemistry on the field grew because our relationships did. And we worked together because we respected one another.”

Mardian sums it up, “Because of my experiences in Holland, I gained a greater understanding of different kinds of people and established friendships with people I never would have known. I feel blessed that I was given the opportunity to go overseas and participate in the sport I love most, alongside 23 people that I greatly respect.”

The hard part, according to team captain Lexie Praggastis, was “that I couldn’t argue with the ref.”

From the Development Program on up through the elite Premier Team, from indoor training in February to the National Soccer Camp in July, over 3,000 players in the last 10 years have progressed through Sawtooth United’s soccer programs. And in the coming years there will be thousands more.

Anticipating the growth of the Wood River Valley and the growing interest in soccer, Sawtooth United is hoping to receive a TOPS Grant from U.S. Soccer to involve more members of the Hispanic community at an earlier age. The Club is establishing an endowment for a financial aid fund to be able to offer financial assistance for tournaments and travel. Ultimately, there will be a need for a 12-field complex to attract competition to the Valley instead of having to travel throughout the state to find it.

In the meantime, though, want to see good soccer and healthy kids? Go to the WRHS fields in July to the National Soccer Camp, or to The Community School’s Sage Willow complex to see the Sawtooth United Premier Team training hard for its 2006 trip to Scandinavia to compete in the Gothia Cup in Sweden (the largest youth soccer tournament in the world), and in the Dana Cup in Copenhagen. On any given Saturday in the fall or spring, go to one of the fields that dot the Valley and watch a game. In the spring: Sawtooth United games. In the fall: Sawtooth players starring for the Wood River Wolverines and The Community School Cutthroats.

After 10 years, the ubiquitous Sawtooth soccer uniform will be changing, but you will recognize the kids who wear them. They will be healthy, happy, and proud—ambassadors of their sport and the Wood River Valley.

Bob Brock has been an English teacher and soccer coach at The Community School for over 20 years. He can’t keep up with the kids anymore, but trying keeps him young.

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